• Randall Delgado

    Braves retire no. 10, kick off series against Arizona

    On any other night, the fact that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were facing off would be the headline. On any other night, it would have been big news that former Braves Delgado, Martin Prado and Eric Hinske were returning to Atlanta to face their old team. On any other night, it would have been a storyline that the Braves were five games up in the National League East and sailing, despite being viewed as the second-best team in the division all postseason, into the season and still even now by some. But last night was not any other night. Last night was Chipper’s night.

    Yesterday the Atlanta Braves inducted Chipper Jones into the franchise hall of fame. In a ceremony that included franchise greats like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones was rewarded for his two decades of dedication to the Atlanta Braves and to baseball. Like ceremonies before it, Chipper was spoken of as one of the greats in baseball. Much was made of him having more hits than Lou Gehrig, a higher career average than Pete Rose and more RBIs than any third baseman in the history of the game. The accolades were many.

    The hall of fame induction luncheon and the number retirement ceremony before last night’s game are something Atlanta’s fans have become accustomed to in recent years. Since 2009, the Braves have retired the numbers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, John Smoltz and now Chipper Jones. The regularity of the hall of fame induction and number retirement ceremonies in recent years reflect how dominate the Braves were in the 90s. And it is likely that Braves Country will be treated to another regular occurrence in the near future–the induction of Atlanta’s 90s dynasty into Cooperstown.

    If you ask any Braves fan, there is nothing surprising about the way crowds react to Chipper Jones. On the night he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame and had his number retired, the crowd was electric. Now, if you ask that same Braves fan about the second loudest ovation of the night, that, too, wasn’t a surprise. With a shout out from Chipper Jones as he spoke as his number ten was retired and displayed on the facade (next to the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Bobby Cox and Greg Maddux), the one and only Martin Prado received the second-loudest ovation of the night.

    Martin Prado, sent to the Diamondbacks in the trade for Justin Upton, was a fan favorite. His versatility was highly valued by both the club and its fans. But what you hear most about Prado is what a great guy he is, what a great teammate he is and how great he is in the clubhouse. Braves fans were understandably shocked, some livid, when Frank Wren sent Prado to Arizona. Martin, too, was stunned. However, as is often said, baseball is a business and you often lose someone great to gain someone great. In the Upton trade, the Braves picked up the consistent hitter Chris Johnson as a bonus. That turned out to be an important throw-in and allowed the Braves to trade the strikeout-prone Juan Francisco to Milwaukee. Prado is widely respected in Atlanta and that was on full display last night. When Chipper Jones circled the field in a white convertible, the only time the car stopped was so Martin Prado, who was warming up on the field, could approach the car and give Chipper a hug. Prado stepped to the plate for the first time, receiving a prolonged standing ovation as well as a hug from catcher Brian McCann. You don’t see an opposing catcher hugging the batter coming to the plate very often, if at all. Prado tipped his cap to the crowd and the game went on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Prado in a Braves uniform someday down the road, similar to how the Braves have brought back other veteran players (Glavine, Diaz, Franco).

    In Chipper’s speech, he mentioned he wished the Diamondbacks luck “four games from now” with that trademark smirk. He, like everyone else, was anxious to see the pitching matchup of Teheran and Delgado. The Upton trade could have gone another way–sending Teheran to Arizona rather than Delgado. Teheran’s evolution as a young man coming into his own has been what the Braves had hoped for both he and Delgado. Unfortunately, Delgado’s improvement has been slow going. He had spent the majority of the season in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks. Neither pitcher disappointed in what was a duel for much of the game. Teheran pitched another scoreless gem in his 6 innings of work. And the only criticism of Delgado’s game is that he isn’t as polished under pressure as Teheran has become. That’s truly the difference between Teheran this season and last. He has been able to work out of a pinch and limit damage.

    Unfortunately, the third former Brave that everyone was looking forward to seeing was Eric Hinske. Hinske had been suspended for the fracas between the D-backs and the Dodgers, but returned from serving his suspension just in time to be designated for assignment by Arizona. That announcement was made just before the game and it is unclear if Chipper even knew of it before he gave “Ski” a shout out in his speech.

    While it seemed a bit odd that the guy representing Chipper’s former teammates was Dan Uggla, Uggla does have an interesting perspective on Chipper as a guy who grew up in the south watching the Braves on television then becoming their opponent and eventually a Brave himself. Uggla spoke about Chipper during the on-field ceremony, received the first pitch from Chipper and then had himself a game. Uggla had 2 hits and scored a run. His performance upstaged only by young Andrelton Simmons who hit his 6th homer of the season off Delgado.

    It seemed rather fitting that in the final inning on the night the Braves honored Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel came in and was guided by Brian McCann behind the dish for the save. Chipper had the privilege of watching Kimbrel’s Rookie of the Year campaign as well as Brian McCann’s early years in the big leagues. While the Braves’ roster is getting younger, there were few men on the field last night that hadn’t been teammates with Chipper or in some way influenced by his career. In fact, there were few people in the stands, watching on television or listening on the radio who weren’t touched by Chipper’s career in some way. There will never be another Chipper Jones.

    The series against the Diamondbacks resumes today with veterans Kennedy (3-4, 5.21) vs. Hudson (4-7, 4.10). The season finale features Cahill (3-9, 4.29) vs. Maholm (8-6, 3.75). The Braves will then welcome the Marlins for a 3-game set at the Ted before beginning a road trip in Philly.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.

    Braves drop series by the Bay, Upton’s return to Arizona

    Atlanta has gone through a terrible stretch of baseball having lost 4 of their last 6 games on the road. With just 3 more games on the road before a travel day and a return to Turner Field for a 6-game home stand, the Braves need to salvage as many of the the remaining 3 road games as possible. Taking 2 of the 3 games in Arizona would give the Braves a winning percentage for the 10-game road trip.

    Before a preview of Justin Upton’s return to Chase Field as the Braves square off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a wrap-up of the series in San Francisco:

    Game 1:

    Starting the series off on the right note was important in Cincinnati and the Braves looked to repeat that in the first game of the series against the Giants against Ryan Vogelsong. The Braves had hit Vogelsong well in their prior match-ups, but the Vogelsong on the mound for the Giants Thursday night was hardly the Vogelsong of games past. He has had only 1 quality start in 2013. Vogelsong was unable to locate his pitches, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits in 4 1/3 innings. The Braves were able to close the door on Vogelsong and the game in the 4-run 5th inning.

    The Braves’ bullpen (with appearances by O’Flaherty and Kimbrel) was solid, allowing 1 hit and 0 runs between them. With the 7 innings Teheran pitched, the ‘pen didn’t have to get far. There seems to be a trend with the ‘pen–when the starter goes deep, the less they have to accomplish, the sharper the bullpen is.

    Brian McCann homered in the 2nd inning off Vogelsong, his 1st of the season and since his return from the disabled list Monday in Cincinnati. McCann has looked healthy and effective, both at the plate and behind it. In his 5 games since returning, he now has 5 hits, 7 RBIs, and 2 HRs including the one he hit in game 1 of the series.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 2 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 6 11 0
    Giants 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 1

    W: Teheran (2-0) L: Vogelsong (1-3) SV: Kimbrel (11)

    Game 2:

    Tim Hudson had been nothing but dominant against the San Francisco Giants in recent outings. However, notching his 202nd career win against them was not in the cards. His opponent on the mound, Matt Cain, took a nasty line drive off his hip and still managed to pitch 8 innings of 2-run baseball. Hudson, on the other hand, lost control of the game in the 4th inning when the Giants scored 6 runs. Hudson was only able to pitch 3 2/3 innings before turning the game over the bullpen. Strangely enough, Hudson recorded 4 strikeouts, despite giving up 8 hits, 1 walk and those 6 earned runs.

    The Braves were unable to break the stranglehold Cain had on them until the 5th inning when they scored 2 runs. Those 2 runs would be the only of the entire game for Atlanta. Brian McCann’s 2-run homer off of Cain in the 5th accounted for both runs. His 2nd homer of the series looked even more like vintage McCann and may be the ultimate clean bill of health for the All Star catcher.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 3 0
    Giants 0 0 0 6 0 2 0 0 x 8 11 0

    W: Cain (2-2) L: Hudson (4-2)

    Game 3:

    Paul Maholm had another outing where he received no run support in the early innings and then lost control in the 5th inning. We have seen this trend with Maholm where he pitches great until the 4th or 5th inning and far too often has received little to no run support up until that point. Saturday’s game was no exception. Maholm pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks and 6 earned runs. Gearrin and Avilan picked it up from there, not allowing any runs, but when Anthony Varvaro came in to relieve, he gave up an additional 3 runs.

    While it wasn’t the sharpest pitching the Braves have ever put on display, the hitting was nonexistent. This, too, is a trend with the Braves. It is feast or famine. The only RBI recorded in the game came at the hands of the pitcher, Paul Maholm. Gattis had a double, but that was not enough given the number of runs surrendered by the pitching staff. The Braves recorded 12 strikeouts.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 7 0
    Giants 1 0 0 1 4 0 0 4 x 10 14 0

    W: Bumgarner (4-1) L: Maholm (4-4)

    Game 4:

    Kris Medlen has had the worst luck in baseball so far this year. For as hot as he was last season after joining the rotation, he has been equally cold this season. It hasn’t helped that he has received an average of 2.66 runs of support in his outings. Compare that to the 4.94 average runs in support of Hudson’s outings, the 4.43 average in support of Minor, the 6.24 for Teheran and the 3.68 for Paul Maholm. The baseball gods must not be smiling on Medlen because the bats go cold when Medlen takes the hill.

    Medlen pitched 5 1/3 innings, gave up 8 hits and 5 runs (3 of them earned and 3 off the home run ball). The real struggle of the game was the strike zone. He walked 5 batters with his spotty command.

    In 2 of the 4 games in San Francisco, the hitting of Evan Gattis accounted for most, if not all, of the Braves’ scoring. Gattis recorded   a 2-out RBI double. The Braves struck out only 8 times against Lincecum and the Giants’ pitching staff, but it was clear they could not get a read on the improved stuff of Lincecum.

    Something unusual happened in the final game of the series: The Braves’ defense was terrible. Offensive struggles seemed to follow the team onto the field. Both Dan Uggla and Justin Upton received errors in the field.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
    Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 2
    Giants 0 1 1 1 2 0 0 0 x 5 10 1

    W: Lincecum (3-2) L: Medlen (1-5)

    JUSTIN UPTON RETURNS TO CHASE FIELD…

    When the Arizona Diamondbacks made their interest known to the league that they’d be entertaining offers for Justin Upton, the Braves knew that Justin Upton could be a star in Atlanta. However, like other teams, including the Seattle Mariners who had a deal ready to go until Upton blocked it, the Braves couldn’t understand why the D-backs had given up on a young man with such potential and so many tools. A change of scenery may have been just what Justin Upton needed, though. Since joining the Braves, he is hitting .269 with 35 hits, 12 homers and 21 RBIs. In the first 37 games of last season, Upton hit .234 with 30 hits, 4 homers and 13 RBIs.

    In comparison, two of the players that the Braves gave up to get Justin Upton haven’t exactly panned out for the D-backs. Martin Prado, the most versatile the Braves have had in years, has been versatile for the D-backs, but hasn’t produce the way he had for the Braves. Prado is currently hitting .223 with 35 hits and a mere 9 RBIs. Randall Delgado, part of Atlanta’s rotation last year, is not even a part of Arizona’s starting rotation. At Triple-A Reno, Delgado has a 9.09 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.

    During the SF series, the Braves signed left-handed reliever Juan Cedeno. Cedeno’s minor league contract with the Braves could result in his call-up to the big club quickly given the struggles of Atlanta’s ‘pen in recent days. Cedeno, who is the same age as Varvaro (29), was part of the Yankees organization as a prospect. He pitched with their Triple-A affiliate in Scranton during the 2012 season and was released in 2013. In 11 innings at Scranton, Cedeno recorded an 0.82 ERA. He surrendered 8 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 5 walks and 9 strikeouts. In his 2 years in Triple-A, Cedeno has a 2.52 record in 75 innings with 66 strike outs.

    Jason Heyward is close to returning to his spot on the roster. In his 3rd rehab game at Triple-A Gwinnett yesterday, Heyward had 2 hits and 3 RBIs. This was a vast improvement over the 1st game at Gwinnett when he went hitless in 5 at-bats (striking out 3 times). He then missed the Saturday game due to soreness around the site where his appendix was removed. As of now there is no exact date for Heyward’s return.

    In attempt to right the ship, the Braves will pit Minor (4-2, 2.96) vs. Miley (3-1, 2.93) in game 1 of the series. Tuesday’s game will feature Teheran (2-0, 4.84) vs. Corbin (5-0, 1.75). And the series finale features veterans Hudson (4-2, 4.70) vs. Kennedy (1-3, 4.83).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves acquire Justin Upton from D-Backs

    News hit the wires this morning that the Atlanta Braves had reached a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire outfielder Justin Upton.

    The preliminary details of the deal are as follows: The Braves will acquire Upton (LF) and Chris Johnson (3B) for Randall Delgado (RHP), Martin Prado (LF/3B), Nick Ahmed (SS), Zeke Spruill (RHP), and presumably Brandon Drury (1B). Important to this deal is the fact that Atlanta’s general manager Frank Wren did not give up any of the organization’s top pitching prospects (Baseball America ranked Spruill 7th among the Braves’ pitching prospects).

    As was reported here earlier by Andrew Hirsh, the Braves became a more likely trade partner with the Diamondbacks for Upton when the outfielder vetoed a trade that was arrived at between the Diamondbacks and the Mariners. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, would have given up one of their top three pitching prospects as part of that deal. With that blocked deal and the Rangers announcing they were out of the running for the younger Upton, the door opened for Frank Wren. In addition to potential trade partners falling away, Kevin Towers, GM of the D-Backs, was dealing with a log jam of outfielders with the acquisition of Cody Ross. Towers had been seeking offers for either Upton or Jason Kubel.

    What the Braves get from the Diamondbacks

    1. Justin Upton (OF): .280/.355/.430 in 2012 with 155 hits, 17 home runs, 67 RBIs and 18 SB.

    2. Chris Johnson (3B): .286/.321/.503 in 2012 (44 games) with 42 hits, 7 home runs, and 35 RBIs.

    What the Braves give up to the Diamondbacks

    1. Randall Delgado (RHP): 4-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.414 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts (92.2 innings) in 2012.

    2. Martin Prado (LF/3B): .301/.359/.438 in 2012 with 186 hits, 10 HRs, 70 RBI and 17 SBs.

    3. Nick Ahmed (SS Class-A Advanced Lynchburg): .268/.337/.391 with 136 hits, 6 HRs and 49 RBIs in 2012.

    4. Zeke Spruill (RHP Class-AA Mississippi): 9-11, .367 ERA, 106 strikeouts (161.2 innings) in 2012.

    5. Brandon Drury (1B at Class-A Rome): .229/.270/.333 in 2012 with 102 hits, 6, home runs, and 51 RBIs.

    On paper this trade makes the Braves a very solid club with the potential lineup of 1-Simmons, 2-J.Upton, 3-JHey, 4-B.J.Upton, 5-Freeman, 6-Uggla, 7-McCann, 8-Johnson/Francisco. We can assume at this point that Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will platoon at third base. Francisco has had a stellar winter in the Venezuelan League, but his inability to hit left-handed pitched remains an issue.

    With the trade of Delgado, we can assume that Julio Teheran will fall into the fifth rotation spot.

    While Braves Country will surely feel an emotional loss with Martin Prado, the Braves and Prado were heading to an arbitration hearing after not reaching an extension agreement. Prado will enter free agency at the end of 2013. It is widely believed that Prado will seek $11-12 million per year in a multi-year deal following the 2013 season. This would have been a number the Braves would not have been willing to pay for Prado. Prado’s versatility and clutch hitting will be missed by the Braves, but the ability to sign a player with the potential of Justin Upton for multiple years far outweighed the loss of Prado. The trade of Prado also frees up about $10 million in payroll should the Braves need an additional piece in 2013.

    Justin Upton will be joining his brother B.J., signed to a 5-year deal by Frank Wren this winter, and Jason Heyward in the Braves outfield. Atlanta’s outfield immediately becomes one of the most dynamic Major League Baseball.

    The Justin Upton deal is pending a physical.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#%21/framethepitch">@framethepitch.

    Braves rotation could soon look very different

    RHP Randall Delgado could soon be replaced in ATL rotation

    Prior to the start of the season, we posted a piece here at BravesWire titled “Not one, but TWO Braves rotations” highlighting the apparent depth of the Braves pitching staff. It appeared at the time that the Braves had enough Big League or Big League-ready arms to fill TWO Major League starting rotations.

    How things have changed.

    Jair Jurrjens spent much of the season at Triple-A, Gwinnett trying to iron out his problems, and while he is now back in Atlanta, he remains on the bubble.

    Meanwhile, Brandon Beachy and RH prospect Arodys Vizcaino (who was slated for the bullpen but could have started) are both recovering from season-ending ligament replacement “Tommy John” surgery.

    Kris Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to stretch his arm out and nearly joined the Atlanta rotation, but his services remain critical to a Braves bullpen that has not been nearly as dominant as expected.

    RH prospect JJ Hoover was traded to the Reds for 3B Juan Fransisco.

    Top-rated phenom Julio Teheran hasn’t looked as Big League-ready as most thought he would at the half-way point of the ‘12 season.

    Mike Minor and Randall Delgado remain in the Braves rotation, but while both have looked great at times, they’ve also had their share of horrendous starts. Their youthful unreliability is forgivable, given their age and inexperience, but the Braves need more consistency in their rotation if they hope to make a postseason run.

    This team has fallen victim to a remarkable degree of misfortune in the pitching department this year. And with that in mind, I must say something I never could have envisioned myself saying just 4 months ago…

    The Braves need pitching.

    This is a realization the Braves front office came to weeks—perhaps even months—ago, and the process of trying to strengthen this beleaguered Atlanta pitching staff is well underway.

    The Braves made their first move to that end a week ago, when they signed former All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets.  While, officially, the agreement with Sheets was of the minor league variety, the Braves fully expect Sheets to join the Big League rotation soon.

    Sheets will turn 34 years old later this month. He has pitched 9 seasons in the big leagues, including 5 straight years (2004-2008) with a sub-4.00 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a 4-time All-Star (2001, ’04, ’07 and ’08).  After undergoing season-ending “Tommy John” surgery in 2010, he sat out the entire 2011 season and the first half of the ’12 season. He’s healthy now, and by all reports, his velocity and overall “stuff” looks pretty good.

    Sheets made his first uniformed start in nearly two years Wednesday for the Braves Double-A affiliate, Mississippi. He threw 74 pitches over 5 innings. He allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and struck out 6 batters. He looked rusty through the first 2 frames, understandably, but rebounded with 3 scoreless innings. Atlanta Braves Manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was encouraged by Sheet’s outing, noting “He touched 93 mph, good breaking ball; threw well. He’s going on to his next start.”

    Ben Sheets is expected to join that Atlanta starting rotation, replacing either Mike Minor or—more likely—Randall Delgado, sometime after the All-Star Break.

    But the Braves aren’t stopping there. They’re still very much interested in trading for a proven quality starting pitcher. Top candidates include Milwaukee’s Zach Greinke, Minnesota’s Fransisco Liriano, and Ryan Dempster & Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs.

    The top starting pitching prize on the trade market is, without a doubt, Zach Greinke, and the Braves are believed to be serious suitors for his services. Let’s suppose, for the sake of conversation, the Braves were to land Greinke. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from a rotation of: Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Delgado … to a rotation of: Greinke, Hudson, Hanson, Sheets, Jurrjens. Quite a difference, huh?

    With Sheets apparently on his way up soon and the Braves hip-deep in the starting pitching trade market, there is a better than average chance that this Braves rotation will look quite different by month’s end.

    Braves pitching depth has eroded quickly

    As the old adage goes, you can never have too much pitching. Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez now understand that as well as anyone.

    During the offseason it seemed as if the Braves had enough depth on the mound to put together two full rotations, as BravesWire’s Kent Covington outlined in February. Now, the Braves find themselves hard-pressed to fill out one.

    Through 48 games, Atlanta has the 21st best ERA in the Majors and have displayed consistently mediocre pitching since the start of the 2012 season. While the bullpen hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, there remains hope that the relief core can return to form without any personnel adjustments. The Braves have not lost faith in underperforming relievers, Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters, whose early season struggles have been at the heart of Atlanta’s bullpen inconsistency.

    The starting rotation–particularly the back end–is more worrisome.

    No player has been more disappointing than Jair Jurrjens, who remains in Gwinnett and has yet to regain the confidence and command necessary to return to the big leagues. Now a far cry from the pitcher that started last season with a 12-3 record, Jurrjens continues to struggle in the minors, currently sporting a 5.56 ERA in Triple A through six appearances. At this point the Braves would be foolish count on his return and must plan to move on with the former All-Star, a difficult pill to swallow to say the least.

    Then there’s Mike Minor, who’s regressed quite a bit so far this season and become one of the most hittable pitchers in the league over his past six starts. After making some ill advised comments during Spring Training about his placement in the organization, the former seventh overall pick has hardly been worthy of a spot in Atlanta’s rotation, as he’s failed to win a game since April 19. Surrendering an average of 5.43 earned runs per game since his last victory, it may be time for Minor to join Jurrjens in Gwinnett for the time being.

    For Randall Delgado, who won the Braves’ 5th starter job out of spring training, it has been anything but smooth sailing. Delgado, 22, currently sports a 2-5 record and a 4.53 ERA—hardly what team management had hoped for when they decdided to bring him north with the big boys.

    Beyond the aforementioned starters, the Braves’ prospect depth has also been disappointing. Julio Teheran, one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball, appears no readier for prime time than he was at the same point last year. His underwhelming performance in spring training earned him a bus ticket back to AAA Gwinnett.

    While slated for the bullpen this year, top-rated RHP prospect Arodys Vizcaino was a starter throughout his minor league career and would have added to ATL’s starting pitching depth.  Unfortunately,  he is currently recovering from “Tommy John” surgery and won’t return until next season.

    RHP prospect JJ Hoover was also a part of the Braves’ pool of young arms seemingly ready for big-league action, but he was traded the Reds for 3B Juan Fransisco back in March.

    Nevertheless, the Braves still have two rotation options in their bullpen in Kris Medlen and Livan Hernandez, both of whom have experience as starters. Given the troubling state of the back end of Atlanta’s rotation, there must have already been a least a couple of closed-door discussions about shifting one of the two back to the rotation in place of Minor or Delgado. This switch could become even more feasible if Peter Moylan proves healthy and effective upon his return, which could be drawing near.

    While the Braves have pitching issues at the moment, the rotation’s top-end trio of Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy is more than solid. And while Atlanta’s pitching depth is not what it appeared to be just two months ago, the Braves still have options. Options which may have to be exercised if something doesn’t give very soon.

    Andrew Hirsch is a freelance sports writer and MLB analyst for BravesWire.com. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh

    And before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    Grading future Braves talent (part-1): Pitching

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note: Over the next week BravesWire scribe, Jim Pratt, will be evaluating the strength of future Atlanta Braves talent in all separate areas (pitching, catching, infield and outfield). Today, he breaks down the pitching talent in the Braves’ system.

    Braves RHP Julio Teheran

    With Mike Minor graduating from prospect status, the ‘Big Four’ are now the ‘Elite Three’. Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado will all most likely join Minor enough times in Atlanta that they too will no longer be prospect eligible after this season.

    Where does that leave a farm system that prides itself on producing a pipeline of arms to the major league club? The next group coming through won’t be able to rival the ceiling of the pitchers they are following, but they will provide quality depth.

    Julio Teheran (A+): Ranks as the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Has a plus fastball, topping out around 97 mph, which he can locate in the zone to either side of the plate. His other plus offering is a changeup that some grade as a 70 on the 20-80 grading scale. The breaking ball could use refining in the minors before he takes his turn in the Braves rotation every five days. Teheran has the ceiling of a frontline starter that can anchor a playoff contending pitching staff.

    Arodys Vizcaino (A-): His value lies in whether he ultimately becomes a starter or remains in the bullpen. (A move back to the rotation could change my grade back to a solid “A”.) In his current status as a reliever, he has two plus pitches that complement each other well in short one-inning stints; a fastball that sits 96-98 mph out of the bullpen and a hard breaking curveball. His changeup is below average, and he will be unable to refine that pitch working in the back-end of ballgames. If Atlanta wants to move him back into a starting role, he will need some minor league time to further develop the changeup. Vizcaino has the stuff to be a top notch closer at some point. With Craig Kimbrel entrenched at that spot, it’s unlikely that will be in Atlanta.

    Braves RHP Randall Delgado

    Randall Delgado (A-): Nitpicking just slightly, Delgado is just a notch below Teheran and Vizcaino as far as upside is concerned, even though he is usually mentioned alongside the other two. Both secondary pitches could use more work, but he seemed to favor the changeup over the curveball during his seven starts with the Braves last season. He threw the changeup 22.4% of the time while only using the curveball at a 7.9% clip. The fastball sits 91-94 mph and can touch 96-97. Delgado’s ceiling is a number two with a more likely projection of a very good number three starter, although ESPN’s Keith Law mentioned in his Top 100 prospect column that, “There’s a good enough chance that Delgado ends up in the bullpen because of the lack of a third pitch…”

    Sean Gilmartin (B): Selected 28th overall in the 2011First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State, Gilmartin is a polished college product that could move quickly through the system. His command has been stellar in his first taste of professional baseball. Between Low-A Rome and the Arizona Fall League, he has a K/BB ratio of 56:10 in 50.1 innings. His fastball is 88-91 mph and he has a groundball inducing changeup that flashes plus capability on occasion.

    Zeke Spruill (B): Inconsistency early in his career had Spruill wavering as a true prospect, but he was able to put together a solid season last year that has got him back on the radar. He led the Carolina League in WHIP (1.01), CG (5) and was fifth in ERA (3.19). Spruill has a low 90’s fastball with a sinking action that helped him produce 1.29 groundball outs per fly ball outs. If he can continue to show the maturity and determination he went into 2011 with, Spruill could potentially be a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues within two years.

    JR Graham (B-): A personal favorite, Graham has a 92-95 mph fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph at times, and his curveball has plus potential. His changeup must get better to remain a starter. If he can refine that offering, he could jump some of the pitchers ahead of him in the rankings. Standing 6’0 and 185 pounds, size and durability seem to be the biggest question marks among scouts.

    JJ Hoover (B-): Making the transition from starter to reliever late last season, Hoover struck out 46 batters in 33 innings while pitching in relief between two levels. Mainly a two-pitch guy, he has a low 90’s fastball and sharp slider. Hoover has an ideal bullpen arm and could reach the major leagues at some point this season. However, he could still succeed as a starter, and a move back to the rotation may change my grade to a solid “B”.

    Navery Moore (C+): A closer at Vanderbilt, Moore was selected in the 14th round in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. His fastball has good life at 93-96 mph and is a swing and miss pitch within the zone.  If he can improve on the breaking ball, getting harder break instead of a sweeping action, Moore can become solid set-up man. He made five appearances in the Arizona Fall, with four strikeouts and five walks.

    Carlos Perez (C+): High hopes turned to disappointment last season as Perez struggled to find the results to match the talent. He had a promising K/9 at 7.93, but command was a problem all year as he posted a 4.71 BB/9. The command issues could be partly due to less than ideal mechanics. The fastball is not dominating at 89-91, and his curveball is currently below average. The one potential plus pitch is his changeup, which he has a nice feel for. Still only 20 years old and throwing from the left side, the Braves will be patient with this kid in hopes the talent eventually turns into results.

    Billy Bullock (C+): A power first pitcher with a 94-96 mph fastball that misses bats, he had 66 strikeouts in 50.2 minor league innings last year. That is the positive. The negative lies in the control issues he has continually shown with a 6.67 career BB/9 rate. He has the intimidating presence of a back-end of the bullpen guy, standing 6’6 and 225 pounds. The secondary stuff is usually what separates the toppitching prospects from the others and that can also be said of Bullock, who needs more consistency out of his slider.

    Pitching Staff — Overall Grade: B+ 

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Follow Jim Pratt on Twitter: @2OutSacBunt and BravesWire: @TheBravesWire

     

    Braves lose game-2 of spring 18-3, but the good news is…

    By Kent Covington

    RHP Randall Delgado

    So… day-2 of the Grapefruit League season didn’t exactly go as planned. Of course it ‘s just spring training (and very early in the spring at that), but an 18-3 loss is always ugly.

    To say it was a disappointing day for the Braves top-2 pitching prospects, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran, doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Delgado gave up 4 earned runs, including a homer, on 2 hits and 2 walks in an inning of work. Teheran gave up 7 earned runs, including 6—yes SIX—homers, on 6 hits and a walk. The wind was blowing out, but 6 homers in 2 innings has to sting.

    The good news is that none of it counts for anything, and the young Braves hurlers have plenty of time to find their groove in the competition for that 5th spot in the Braves rotation.

    Other good news: 

    Braves pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin looked good in a scoreless inning of work, as did Atlanta bullpen candidate Jairo Ascencio, who also pitched a scoreless inning.

    Martin Prado was 2 for 3 on the afternoon. And Braves infield prospect (and Chipper’s heir at 3B?) Joe Terdoslavich hit safely in both of his at-bats.

    But if you still need a little something to wash the taste of that 18-3 loss out of your mouth, here’s a fun video for ya (below). Seems like it’d be a lot of fun to just sit down and have a cold beverage with these two guys. Class acts, both.

    By the way, the Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    Glimpse of the Future (part-3): 2014 Braves Pitching

    By Jim Pratt

    Editor’s note:  Last week in part-2 of his 2014 Braves preview, Jim Pratt gave us a look at the Braves outfield of the future. Prior to that, he previewed ’14 Braves infield

    The 2014 pitching staff will feature many familiar names as the Atlanta Braves continue to dip into their deep farm system after the eventual loss of Tim Hudson to retirement and Jair Jurrjens to trade or free agency. It’s difficult to say the pitching staff will be better after those losses because of the youth of the arms that will replace them, but there’s no question the talent level will be raised. The potential top three starters are all hard throwers with plus strikeout ability and will be expected to anchor the staff for years to come.

     

    RHP Tommy Hanson

    2014 ROTATION

    1) Tommy Hanson

    Hanson will be making his third consecutive Opening Day start to begin the 2014 season. In his prime at age 27 and with previous shoulder troubles well in the past, he should be ready to make his first legitimate run at the Cy Young award.

    2) Brandon Beachy

    Before 2011 there was a question on whether or not Beachy had the “stuff” to be more than a number 3 starter. After he re-introduced his college slider back into his arsenal those questions slowly became moot. Beachy establishes himself as a solid number two behind Hanson and continues to maintain an above average SO/9 rate.

    3) Julio Teheran

    Even though his mound maturity is well beyond his age of 23, he will need one more year of refining his pitches at the major league level before challenging Hanson as the staff ace. His fastball and changeup are both plus pitches, but his curveball is still a work in progress.

    4) Mike Minor

    Minor remains the lone lefty in the rotation. In an effort to place a left-handed starter in the middle of the rotation, Minor could be bumped into the number three spot ahead of Teheran for the 2014 season. Minor is a solid mid-rotation starter

    RHP Randall Delgado

    that will have an ERA around the 4.00 mark for most of his career. The command/control will improve, but he doesn’t have the overall stuff to continue racking up the 8.76 SO/9 he has showed in the majors to this point.

    5) Randall Delgado

    By 2014, Teheran has separated himself from Delgado as the better pitcher, but with Delgado listed as the fifth starter the Braves will once again boast one of Major League Baseball’s best starting rotations.

    Rotation Depth includes: Sean Gilmartin, Zeke Spruill and JR Graham.

    2014 BULLPEN

    By now Craig Kimbrel is established as the top closer in MLB as he continues to post 40-plus saves a season.  With the full time addition of hard throwing Arodys Vizcaino to the bullpen, the eighth inning workload on Jonny Venters is lifted. Sharing the set-up duties, the righty/lefty combo of Venters and Vizcaino turns any ballgame into a 7 inning affair.

    The biggest loss to the bullpen will be the free agency departure of Eric O’Flaherty. With O’Flaherty gone, Atlanta turns to Kris Medlen as the primary bridge to the back-end trio of Kimbrel, Venters and Vizcaino.

    By the way, we’ve got a new Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Join us on Twitter @TheBravesWire@2OutSacBunt@FriedbasballATL

    Not One, but TWO Braves Rotations?

    By Kent Covington

    Earlier this week we pointed out that the Braves boast the deepest pitching staff in baseball (If you missed it, here it is). But the most vivid illustration of this occurred to me just this afternoon. The Braves are so ridiculously pitching rich that they could literally field TWO viable big league starting rotations…

    Braves RHP's Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens

    ROTATION #1
    Tim Hudson
    Brandon Beachy
    Kris Medlen
    Julio Teheran
    Arodys Vizcaino

    ROTATION #2
    Tommy Hanson
    Jair Jurrjens
    Mike Minor
    Randall Delgado
    JJ Hoover or Christhian Martinez

    RHP Tim Hudson is now the elder statesman of a very young staff.

    How’s THAT for depth?  And only one of the above starters is over the age of 26. Future look bright to you?

    On a separate note, Braves single game tickets go on sale March 5.  While the season opens April 5, we won’t see any action at Turner Field until the Braves’ April 13th contest against the Brewers.  Best start making your plans now, though. Home opener tickets sell quickly, especially when that opener falls on a Friday.

    Got tailgate plans? Check out our Turner Field tailgating tips.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    Braves Boast Deepest Pitching Staff in Baseball

    By Kent Covington

    For a second consecutive season, the Braves head into spring training uncertain of who their fifth starter will be.  For some teams, this could be a problem. It could be an indication that a team possesses no more than 3 or 4 quality starters and must head to camp hoping some AAA journeyman or mid-level prospect will pleasantly surprise and lay claim to the job.

    Not so in Atlanta.

    RHP, Randall Delgado

    The Braves have the opposite problem, if that’s what you want to call it. They have no fewer than nine—that’s right, NINE—viable starting rotation options. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy are locks for the ’12 rotation.  That leaves five deserving young arms for just one job opening, which was created when veteran, Derek Lowe, was traded to Cleveland over the winter.

    Here’s a look at their options for the 5th spot in the rotation:

    Kris Medlen was impressive in his 14 starts in 2010, going 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA before losing the remainder of the season to “Tommy John” surgery. Any team in Major League Baseball, including the Braves, would be happy to have a now healthy Medlen at the back of their rotation. But Kris has also proven valuable in relief, and with Atlanta’s glut of starting pitchers, Medlen figures start the season in the bullpen.

    Arodys Vizcaino, the top-rated prospect acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vasquez trade a couple years back, has been a starting pitcher nearly his entire professional career. In four minor league seasons, the hard-throwing righty made only 15 bullpen appearances. His first big league opportunity, however, came in relief last year after an August promotion from AAA Gwinnett. Vizcaino struck out 17 batters and allowed 16 hits in 17 innings. His 4.67 ERA was skewed upward by one especially poor September outing. Overall, however, he impressed the Braves’ brass enough to figure into their ’12 plans. But like Medlen, while deserving of an opportunity to compete for a starting job, Atlanta’s pitching depth, coupled with his value to the ‘pen means he will almost certainly pitch in relief.

    Julio Teheran is widely considered the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Triple-A hitters would be hard pressed to argue with that evaluation after watching him post a 15-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts for the “G-Braves” last year. His performance in five ’11 Major League starts wasn’t all that fans may have hoped for from the young phenom, but a few welcome-to-the-big-leagues moments from a 20 year-old getting his first taste of Major League Baseball won’t concern the Braves in the slightest. He is universally expected to take his place at the top of the Atlanta rotation in the not-too-distant future and will compete for the 5th starter job this spring.

    Randall Delgado had spent the better part of two years standing in the king sized shadow cast by Julio Teheran.  However, Delgado cemented his own blue chip status after posting a 2.83 ERA in seven big league starts last season. Most analysts consider Delgado to be the second-best young arm in the Braves organization, behind Teheran. But make no mistake, many other franchises would consider him their foremost pitching prospect. He too will compete for a place in the Braves’ rotation.

    LHP, Mike Minor

    Mike Minor, while well regarded, is not nearly as celebrated as Teheran or Delgado. He is, however, perhaps the most developed of the three and is the only lefty among all of Atlanta’s starting pitching candidates. Minor made his big league debut in 2010 and set the Braves franchise record for strikeouts in a game (12) in his third Major League start. He put up respectable numbers in 15 starts for the Braves last season (5-3, 4.14 ERA) and is thought to be a favorite to claim Derek Lowe’s old job.  Minor is in the hot seat. He’s reached a critical crossroads in his career where the Braves must determine whether or not he factors into their future plans. He must either take the job and run with it… or make way for all of the other young arms patiently waiting for their big chance. For this reason, Minor is widely believed to be at the front of the line.

    While the Braves will eventually be forced to choose just one starter from the trio of Teheran, Delgado and Minor, all three could go north with the big league club prior to opening day. With Hudson expected to open the season on the DL while making his way back from off-season back surgery, two of these three young hurlers could begin the season in the starting rotation. And Braves GM, Frank Wren, says both Teheran and Delgado will be considered candidates for a bullpen job if either or both fail to earn a place in the rotation.

    RHP, Julio Teheran

    Remarkably, Atlanta’s pitching depth doesn’t stop with the aforementioned arms. Sean Gilmartin, JJ Hoover and Zeke Spruill headline the next wave of Braves pitching prospects currently blazing a big league path.

    As for the already established talent in the Atlanta rotation… Prior to the all-star break last year, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson arguably outperformed every other trio in Major League Baseball. And Brandon Beachy turned heads with a remarkable rookie campaign (7-3, 3.68 ERA, with 169 strikeouts in 141 innings.

    Health is the only concern for this Atlanta rotation. While now reportedly 100% healthy, Jurrjens and Hanson missed nearly the entire second half of the ’11 season to injury. And again, Hudson will open the season on the DL (expected back in April or early May at the latest). The Braves are genuinely optimistic about all of their “big 3” starters, but they’re undoubtedly happy to have tremendous pitching depth, just in case.

    How ‘bout the bullpen?  Boasting the game’s most dominant relief trio of Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta’s ‘pen is considered by many analysts to be baseball’s best. Setting the table for “The Untouchables” at the back end of the ‘pen is a solid cast, which could include Peter Moylan and Chisthian Martinez, as well as Medlen and Teheran or Delgado.

    This Atlanta pitching staff proved its metal throughout the first half of last season (before injuries to Jurrjens and Hanson), running a back-and-forth horserace with the acclaimed Philadelphia staff for the league’s top team ERA.  If healthy, the Braves could brandish MLB’s most stifling pitching staff in ’12.  Only time will tell.

    This may or may not be the best pitching staff in the game, but it is certainly the deepest.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.